Previously, I have shared a couple of exercises and meditations from my book, The Secret Country of Yourself: Discover the Powerful Magic of Your Endless Inner World (Llewellyn 2017). Here’s some more good juju for a fresh start…
Values and Virtues
When you begin the magic of cleansing and aligning yourself with your true will, often you will find that there is a downside to your heavy spiritual practice. The discrepancies between how you think you are (or would like to be) and how you really are, day to day, are going to show up with a vengeance. You may have thought of yourself as a basically kind-hearted person, but your self-reflection may show that you are actually sort of selfish. Or you may see yourself as fair-minded, until you find yourself crossing the street when a certain kind of person comes toward you.
And that’s okay.
The revelation of your imperfection, I mean. Not the meanness and the racism.
It’s been said that our ability to see our foibles comes before our ability to fix them, which can be really discouraging when we’re starting a new spiritual practice. When I started doing daily prayers to ‘know myself’, I thought, Dang! Daily prayers have made me more mean! But, guess what. I’d always been like that; I just hadn’t seen it before.
I was mightily disturbed and you may be, too.
There is a way to manage this issue. You can get better at living in accordance with what you believe. Clarifying your values will give you a guiding star (or constellation, more like) for your behavior.
If you don’t choose your own ideals, the world will happily impose on you. According to the popular media, you should: make lots of money (Greed); get them before they get you (Paranoia); want something for nothing (Selfishness); worship convenience (Thoughtlessness); feel terrorized (Fear); hate belly fat (Shame); fix those wrinkles (Vanity). Not a nice list, is it?
To move toward your spiritual development, you have to be willing to stand firm in pursuit of what you think is right. The creation of a free, just, and pleasurable society requires powerful people with integrity to act in support of freedom and justice and pleasure.
Values and Virtues in the Secret Country of Yourself
In the Secret Country, I ask you to hold an attitude of creativity and compassion, with an undercurrent of joy; I would also like you to use your powers of discernment freely. I might call these the virtues (“values given moral weight”) of this system. And it’s important to act in support of your virtues. “Faith without works is dead”, sayeth the Christian Bible and lots of other folks. What I’ve done today to live according to my virtues is to work on this book, have some big laughs with my husband, speak kindly, and try to stay out of love with my own opinions.
The core of it is simply this: How are you making the world more like you want it to be? What are you doing to form your life into a strong, fun place to live? In Batman Begins, Rachel says to Bruce Wayne (after seeing him act like an entitled jerk): “It’s not who we are underneath, it’s what we do that defines us.” I believe that wholeheartedly.
While we’re traveling together, I will assume that you are willing to work with the values of the Secret Country, along with your own, if they are different. You could just adopt these values long term, or those of some other system that appeals to you. Some people come to their values because of their class or profession: Bushido, the code of conduct for Samurai in Japan, lists seven virtues. The Chivalric code of the medieval knights is similar; not surprising for warriors. On the other hand, doctors hold to the Hippocratic Oath to “First, do no harm”.
Or you might follow the virtues of your chosen faith: The Christian Bible offers the Ten Commandments; the Koran offers a similar list of admonitions. Buddhism offers the Four Noble Truths. And in Pagan circles, we find the Nine Noble Virtues of Heathenry; or the Eight-fold Path of Wicca; or the Iron and Pearl Pentacles of Feri Tradition. For the Atheists, Alain de Botton has described Ten Virtues for the Modern Age.
These are all well and good, but I’d like to suggest that you take some time to figure out your own, aside from or in addition to what your religion (or lack thereof) teaches.
For the purposes of this exercise, you are going to organize your thoughts using a pentacle. There is a good reason for this, other than because I’m Witchy and I like pentacles.
To choose two of anything means that those two things hold equal approximate weight. Make it three and it becomes just a bit more complex. If it’s four, then you’re always looking at two and two. But oh, delightful five! That extra one invigorates the thought process and gives so many wonderful connections to explore between the points! Also, the pentacle gives you a pattern that will map to your physical body, so that you can move the energy of your values through and around you. More on that later!
First, make a list of all the positive qualities you can think of. (Or go a shortcut here with a list from stevepavlina.com.)
Go through and put a star next to all the words that immediately attract your attention. Go back through and begin to cull, or to sort. You may create a separate group of five for your work life, for your love life, for your spiritual life, and so on, but when you are finished, you should have one pentacle (to rule them all!) that encompasses the primary virtues that you choose to live by.
Don’t get ensnared by the it-has-to-be-right-monster. You have as many chances as you want. In fact, it is a good thing to go back and review and revise your pentacles periodically, to make sure they still work for you. If you have chosen to make multiple pentacles, you will almost certainly have changes to make, especially when your life circumstances change.Now, draw an image of a pentacle. Or print one off the internet, which is actually much easier! Write your five values on sticky notes and place them on the points of the pentacle. Think about the relationships between them. You can see how there will be two ‘legs’ to each point, which end in two other points. Do those two support the one? Does any particular one come first? Or last?
Remember, in a circle (the ‘-cle’ of the ‘penta-cle ‘), there is not necessarily a firm beginning or end; it can go ‘round and ‘round and ‘round. Move the words from place to place until they feel right.
Once you’ve made your pentacle, see how well it lines up with your actual life. Think about each point in detail. If ‘thrift’ is a value for you, would you have bought that new phone? Maybe that purchase does support your thriftiness because you got a great new data plan with it, or maybe you just really wanted it!
See if you are truly living in support of your values, and if you are not, ask yourself why. Is it because you just wish this was a value for you, when it really isn’t? Or is it because you are afraid to live closer to your truth? You will find places where you are out of touch with what is important to you. Would you like to line up your life? Maybe you always considered your family to be top priority, but you find that you are spending all your time at work. Does that line up? Maybe it does, if your kids are older now and no longer need (or want!) your participation in everything they do. Or maybe it doesn’t, if your boss is making unreasonable demands. How would you like to deal with that?
Maybe you’ll choose to acknowledge the truths you’ve revealed and run with them. At one point in my wildly variant career, I was designing commercial interiors. My clients were people who had a lot of money, just the kind of people I had always thought (without knowing any) were greedy and selfish. At my job, I was learning that simply having big bucks doesn’t make someone a bad person, but I was struggling with my old hippie-chick idealism. Finally, my husband said to me, “Do you think you’re betraying your ideals by enjoying working with these people?” and I broke down, because it was true.
I had to realize that I wasn’t betraying anything. I was just updating my values to acknowledge my new experience of money, which reflection encouraged me to further commit to supporting the causes I felt strongly about. With money I made from working with people who had money.
Do you need to shift your perception? Or your activities? Are there actions that you can take right now that will move you closer to your ideals? Take your time with your deliberations.
When you’ve got a good idea of what your final pentacle configuration will be, try this:
Running Your Values Pentacle
Stand with feet apart and arms outstretched.
Imagine that your pentacle is superimposed on your body, with your head at the top and the left lower point at your right foot. Do the points fit where they fall? Do you need to rearrange them so they are in a better order?
Say the name of the point at your head and see a glow there. What is the shape of it? The size? Does it appear healthy? Spend a moment here, just observing. Now allow your attention to fall to your right foot. Say the name of the point there and again observe the shape, color, and size of it. Take a deep breath. Bring your attention up to your left hand. Say the name of the point there. See it, in all its strength or weakness. Breathe into it. Now to your right hand. Name the point. Observe. No judgment. Breathe. Now to your left foot. Name it. See it. Again, deep breath.
Now you have five glowing points around you, each named as one of your primary values. Notice whether any of them appear diminished, if the colors are different. Are you drawn to bring breath and energy to any of them?
To balance the points, run your attention through the pentacle again: head, right foot, left hand, right hand, left foot, and back to your head. Let this go on for as long as you like. Two or three minutes is a good start.
Now you have claimed what is important to you. There is another step to ensure that you are centered in your own values. Send your awareness around the circle the points make: head, left hand, left foot, right foot, right hand, head, and so on. Recognize that all that is within this circle of glowing light is you – your fears and your joys, all that makes you who you are. Outside this boundary is not-you, and while it may trouble you, it might not be your problem to fix.
Hearken back to your experience in the Soul-Fire Invocation. Remember how it felt to be completely filled with your own selfhood, alive and alight with your singular power. Let that feeling empower this circle and let it become a shield made of your commitment to serve your values.
When you are ready, allow the energy to soften back into you. Pat your body all over. Have a snack.
Living in accordance with your own values makes you strong, flexible, and confident. Your spiritual work builds power and it’s good to be conscientious about how you use that power. Every decision you make has repercussions.
Keep in mind that, when a seed begins to grow, the first thing it does is break the case that holds it. Sometimes things get broken when you take action. Often, it’s worth it. It’s up to you to decide when that is true.